I See Dead People

Bex already beat me to this topic, but I’m going to tackle it from the standpoint of someone who’s seen it firsthand.

Body Worlds 2, the “amazing display of real human bodies,” is now in full-swing at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The concept is incredible: real cadavers, preserved with a patented plastination technique that allows up close and personal inspection by the general public.

This is anatomy class like you’ve never experienced. Imagine a dissection lab, with convenient explanation placards and optional audio guides, and without the nasty smell of formaldehyde. It takes all of five minutes to get over the creepy/morbid factor, and discomfort quickly gives way to fascination as you view the amazing specimens on display. And in the event that you become momentarily uncomfortable, sharing a quick Hannibal Lecter joke with the person nearest to you is enough to take off the edge.

Most of the specimens are skinned, so it’s not like looking at a morgue cadaver. Rather, they’ve all typically had selective organ and tissue removal so that you can see a specific aspect of the body, such as the muscular system, the digestive system, the circulatory system, and so on. Many of the items on display are individual organs. A fascinating example is a comparison of hearts, showing one that is healthy and one that has experienced an infarct (that would be a heart attack). There’s also a shocking comparison of lungs: a healthy lung (relatively white), a smoker’s lung (with obvious graying from tar), and a coal miner’s lung (solid black — they don’t call it Black Lung for nothin’).

Be warned ahead of time, if such things disturb you, that most of the specimens are male, and they are left anatomically intact. That means there are still penises and testes, sans scrotum, in full view, and many of the women still have nipples and vaginas. If little Bobby and Susie haven’t had the talk about boy parts and girl parts, this could make for an awkward moment. There are also plastintated fetuses, and a plastinated pregnant woman with plastinated fetus still in utero.

Before you jump on board with the people who have decried Body Worlds as being an “offense against humanity,” take a couple of quick points into consideration.

First, all of the specimens on display were donated to science for this type of purpose. These people knowingly and willingly consented for their bodies to be used for scientific and educational purposes, so there’s been no injustice by plastinating these bodies instead of burying or cremating them. (Still, I had to wonder about a specimen posed like an upside-down skateboarder. One of the items highlighted in the audio guide was how, due to the crouching position, this specimen offered an extraordinary view of the anal sphincter. Even if I donated my body to science, I’m not sure I would want millions of people inspecting my asshole for all eternity.)

Second, all of the bodies, especially the fetuses, were donated after they had died by natural means. These are not aborted babies, so relax. Even the pregnant woman with fetus knew she had a disease that would likely kill her and her baby before the baby was old enough to be saved outside the womb, so she donated both her body and that of the unborn child in the event that she and the baby didn’t survive. They didn’t, hence the display.

A few other things to note:

There’s a touch-and-feel section where you can hold a plastinated lung, brain, and liver. This is, of course, completely optional. But if you’re squeamish, this warning is to keep you from being suddenly shocked by the thought of holding organs that used to function inside someone else’s body.

Also, there are EXTREMELY LARGE CROWDS that are expected to continue throughout the duration of this exhibit. (It’s not going to wind down in a few weeks — just look at California. It ran for six weeks to sold out crowds, then opened for an extended six week run and was still sold out on the last day.) The line just to buy tickets is typically 30-45 minutes, and the tickets are for timed entry. This means that if you buy your ticket at 1:00, your admission to the exhibit may not be until 5:00. There’s plenty of other stuff at the museum to see while you wait for your turn to hop in line, but especially on weekends, this show frequently sells out for the rest of the day by 2:00 in the afternoon.

A much better option is to buy your tickets online at www.dmns.org. If you buy in advance, there is a $2-per-ticket convenience charge, but it’s well worth the money. You pick your date and time, and then you can simply show up five minutes prior, go to the will-call kiosk, and swipe the credit card you used to buy tickets along with your confirmation number. Your tickets will automatically print, and you can get right in line to view the exhibit.

Ticket prices are $20 during daytime hours (this includes admission to the exhibit and the museum — there are no exhibit-only tickets for sale while the museum is open). Afterhours tickets to the exhibit only are $15. If you have a membership (an excellent investment, as you receive free museum admission for one year), tickets to Body Worlds 2 are $10 any time.

1 Comment so far

  1. Kath (unregistered) on April 1st, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

    Saw this today. Lines were like Disneyland and it was incredibly crowded. Still, it was worth the difficulty in parking, the lines and the wait. Absolutely awesome display. I was fortunate to have two RN’s standing in back of me and got to hear their play-by-play of what they knew as we inched along throughout the exhibit.

    Opted not to get the audio package and from what I heard that might have been a mistake.

    The tip to buy tix on-line ahead of time was priceless…thanks Rob!

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